Most people think of Social Security as a program for retired people and disabled workers nearing retirement. But younger people who are unable to work can collect disability benefits through their parents' Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), even if they don't meet the earnings requirements for the program. If you're over the age of 18, you might be able to qualify for SSDI benefits as a "disabled adult child."
SSDI is a program designed for people who have worked and paid Social Security taxes for years before they became disabled. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that most young people haven't been able to work for long enough to qualify for SSDI on their own, so in certain circumstances, you can receive disability benefits under your parents' SSDI.
The SSA will consider you a disabled adult child if you meet the following criteria:
If you qualify as a disabled adult child, you can receive monthly payments through SSDI. While the term "adult child" might seem contradictory, it just means that even though you're over the age of 18, you're collecting SSDI benefits based on your parents' work history instead of your own. (In general, Social Security benefits that are based on a parent's earnings record are called "auxiliary benefits," or dependents benefits.) There's no requirement that you live with your parents to receive adult child benefits.
Social Security pays benefits to disabled adult children based on the parent's primary insurance amount (PIA). The PIA is the amount a person would get if they begin receiving benefits at full retirement age (67). The formula for calculating PIA is complex, and the amount will vary based on your parent's past work and payroll contributions to the disability trust fund.
You can receive one-half of your living parent's PIA, or three-fourths if your parent is deceased. For example, in 2023, the maximum PIA is $3,627 per month. If your parent was entitled to the maximum, your benefits would be $1,814 if your parent is alive, or $2,720 if deceased. But the average PIA is much lower, about $1,600 per month. Assuming your parent's PIA is closer to the average, you'd receive $800 if your parent is alive or $1,200 if deceased.
Additionally, after you've received SSDI benefits for two years, you can qualify for Medicare as a disabled adult child. Your benefits will continue for as long as you have a disability.
In order to be eligible for SSDI as a disabled adult child, you must have a disability that began before you were 22. The SSA will determine whether you're disabled using the same process that they use with any adult who is applying for benefits. You must show the following in order to be considered disabled for purposes of collecting SSDI:
There are a few different ways you can show that you can't perform substantial work.
The SSA publishes a list of medical impairments that they consider especially severe. If your impairment is on the list and your medical record contains evidence that the SSA has already determined is enough to prevent you from working, the agency will find you disabled.
Even if you don't exactly meet the criteria for a listing, you can still be found disabled if the SSA thinks that your condition is equivalent in severity to a listed impairment (in SSA terms, you "medically equal" a listing). You can also have a combination of conditions that don't by themselves meet a listing, but when added up, can medically equal a listed impairment.
Most people don't meet the strict criteria to be found disabled under the listing of impairments. But you can still be found disabled if the SSA finds that your conditions prevent you from working even the easiest jobs full-time. The process of determining what you can and can't do in a work environment is called assessing your residual functional capacity (RFC). If there aren't any jobs that you can do, given your RFC, Social Security will award you disability benefits.
If you were receiving SSDI as a disabled adult child and you get married, in most situations you will not be able to receive SSDI benefits anymore. However, if you get married to another person who's receiving disabled adult child benefits, you may still be able to receive SSDI benefits. For more information on your specific situation, contact your local Social Security office.
You can work as long as you want and still receive disability benefits if your earnings never rise to the level of substantial gainful activity (SGA). For 2023, the SGA amount is $1,470. You're also entitled to a trial work period of about nine months where you're allowed to earn over the SGA amount without putting your disability benefits at risk. If you're earning above the SGA amount for longer than nine months, Social Security might end your benefits.
If you're interested in trying to get back to full-time work, the SSA runs a Ticket to Work program that provides services like vocational training, career counseling, and job placement assistance.
If you've worked enough to be eligible for SSDI based on your own earnings, but you think you could qualify as a disabled adult child, you should contact your local Social Security office. If you're eligible as a disabled child, you could receive a higher amount of monthly payments based on your parent's earnings.
Updated February 6, 2023
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